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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Grosjean's F1 options look limited at Haas but Bottas success is reason for hope

Frenchman set to stay with American team for 2018, but that does not completely rule out chance of move to Ferrari if vacancy did come up.

Romain Grosjean is confirmed as staying at Haas for 2018. Valrin Xhemaj / EPA
Romain Grosjean is confirmed as staying at Haas for 2018. Valrin Xhemaj / EPA

Given there are only 20 racing seats available in Formula One right now, it might seem odd to say that Romain Grosjean having his future for 2018 already sewn up would not be a good thing.

The Haas team announced on Friday that they were going to retain Grosjean and his teammate Kevin Magnussen for next year following a solid first half to the campaign in which their total of 29 points has already matched their final haul in their debut year in 2016.

But Grosjean has openly acknowledged that one of the reasons he chose to leave Renault to move to Haas was with an eye on getting a drive with Ferrari in the future.

Ferrari were heavily involved on the technical side of things in helping the American team get off the ground, and they supply them with engines so would be sure to have a good idea of just how good a job or not the Frenchman is doing.

But we are now in a situation where, on paper at least, Grosjean is facing a third year at Haas.

Which is a rather long way of getting to a race-winning seat, and there is no guarantee that Ferrari would plump for him even if a vacancy did become clear.

Grosjean had an impressive start at Haas, finishing sixth in their first race in Australia and scoring all 29 points as he made then teammate Esteban Gutierrez look extremely ordinary.

This year he has had a much more competitive teammate in Magnussen, and while he has out-scored him 18-11 and out-qualified him 6-4, it has been far from a copybook year for him.

He struggled with the brakes on Haas earlier in the season, and his complaints over the team radio after numerous spins or errors led to him to claim last month in Azerbaijan that he was “fed up” with continually having his comments relayed to TV audiences across the world.

An impressive weekend in Austria this month, when he finished sixth, underlined he still very quick. Certainly his stock may not have dropped, but it does not feel as hot as it was this time last year.

He is 31 and has plenty of years still ahead of him, but the danger for him is being lost in the midfield runners and being overtaken by the next generation.

Only Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton are older than him of the current grid, emphasising it is very much a younger man’s sport these days.

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It is telling that Red Bull Racing drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, both younger than Grosjean, have been more prominently linked with Ferrari than him this year.

Grosjean, who said that he was learning Italian, such is his desire to slot in at Ferrari, if there is an opening, with both Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen out of contract at the end of the year.

Ferrari have already said that Vettel has a deal if he wants it, while Raikkonen, while not a match for his teammate, is a safe pair of hands, and most importantly gets along with the volatile German, creating a healthy team harmony.

The best inspiration for Grosjean right now is Valtteri Bottas.

Last November the Finn was planning on a fifth season driving for Williams. One surprise retirement from Nico Rosberg later and he was parachuted into Mercedes-GP as his replacement and has two race wins under his belt.

Grosjean told Sky Sports last month that he took heart from Bottas’s achievements, but he felt all he could do was the best job he could on track.

“If you ask Valtteri what he was doing last December, I’m sure he was thinking ‘I’m going to go again with Williams and the next thing you know he is in a world championship car.

“It is a phone call and the best thing you can do is do the best thing on track.”

If Ferrari did suddenly find themselves with an opening at the last minute, given their close relationship with Haas, it would not be too hard to envisage something similar to the Bottas move happening for Grosjean, if he was the No 1 choice that is.

A strong performance in next Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix, the race before the summer break, would certainly do his stock in F1 no harm.

Even as Grosjean’s future looks to be at Haas, Bottas has shown things can change quickly, and that will be what he hopes will be the case for 2018 or 2019.